The idea of the “super-mum” who holds down a full-time job while successfully running her home has lost support over the past decade, new British research shows. In a book published this week, Women in Employment: Changing Lives and New Challenges, Cambridge University sociology professor Jacqueline Scott says that both women and men are becoming more likely to believe that the family will suffer if a woman works full-time. The conclusion was based on social attitudes surveys over the past three decades in Britain, the US and Germany.

Professor Scott’s analysis shows that in 1994, 51 per cent of women in Britain and 52 per cent of men said they believed family life would not suffer if a woman went to work. By 2002 those proportions had fallen to 46 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men. There was also a decline in the number of people thinking the best way for a woman to be independent is to have a job. Scott said: “The results are even more extreme in the US, where the percentage of people arguing that family life does not suffer if a woman works has plummeted, from 51 per cent in 1994 to 38 per cent in 2002.”

She added: “The notion that there has been a steady increase in favour of women taking an equal role in the workplace and away from their traditional role in the family is clearly a myth. Instead, there is clear evidence that women’s changing role is viewed as having costs both for the woman and the family. It is conceivable that opinions are shifting as the shine of the ‘super-mum’ syndrome wears off, and the idea of women juggling high-powered careers while also baking cookies and reading bedtime stories is seen to be unrealisable by ordinary mortals.”

The study comes at a time when British teachers and other professionals are increasingly voicing concern about the effects on children of deteriorating home life, and the government is responding with a variety of policies to assist families and schools. These include teaching children social graces at school and coaching parents on how to read a story to their toddler. In Germany, where “gender equality” did not catch on so quickly, the trend is different; support there has risen from 24 per cent in 1994 to 37 per cent in 2002.

Professor Scott believes the British and American trend is in the wrong direction and that women should not give up on the idea of combining career and family life. She says there has been a drive to get women into the workforce without social measures to address the problems that might result. Other equality advocates say the workplace is still too inflexible for both women and men. Behind these attitudes is an ideological commitment to an equal division of paid and unpaid work between men and women, although, as Scott says, “we need to know more about what gender roles people view as practical, as possible and fair”. ~ Guardian (UK), August 6

 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet